I sometimes ask myself whether it will ever be possible for us to grasp the extent of the loneliness and desertion to which we were exposed as children.
As I continue exploring the issues related to my childhood, I keep turning to my favorite medium to do so: books. This time I read The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self by Alice Miller, a childhood trauma classic.
First, gifted doesn’t mean what you probably think it means. For Miller, a gifted child is one who is highly sensitive to the wants/need of others at the expense of his or her own. The biggest issue gifted children have then is repressed emotion which becomes stored in the body and expresses itself as depression.
This book, while fascinating, was difficult for me to get through. For one thing, the language is a little prohibitive. Though Miller’s ideas are relatively clear, the book is not written for the general public, but addressed to therapists (though the afterword hints that the book was revised with the broader audience in mind). Also, because the book is a classic, it’s a touchstone for a lot of other works, which means I’ve read some of these ideas before. (For example, Healing Rage talks about repressed emotion being stored in the body.)
That said, she does present some great ideas. Aside from defining giftedness as being highly sensitive, she also notes that narcissism is the obsession with the idealized image instead of an obsession with self. She describes depression as a separation from the true self, which I think is accurate. She also says the following about depression, which particularly struck me:
The true opposite of depression is neither gaiety nor absence of pain, but vitality—the freedom to experience spontaneous feelings.
Experiencing spontaneous feelings! What a concept! So moments like that help me identify how/why I am so deeply affected by my inability to recognize and, yes, even feel my feelings.
I often joke that I don’t always understand my daughter because she FEELS things so DEEPLY. I recognize now that that’s a good thing, but also, as Miller says:
It is precisely because a child’s feelings are so strong that they cannot be repressed without serious consequences.
I know from observing my daughter and her friends that they do have very strong feelings. And my daughter who is allowed to freely express her feelings without being overly sensitive to the needs of others doesn’t hold on to anger or sadness very long. She feels them, she gets them out, and then she moves on. I mean, yes, she is a little dramatic, but she also has access to her emotions in a way that I never have. Which is part of why I find it so dramatic. I didn’t “perform” my emotions even a little bit.
for a child can experience her feelings only when there is somebody there who accepts her fully, understands her, and supports her
So, yes, I get what Miller is saying. I understand her argument, and I see why it has so much resonance. I certainly related to a lot of it, and I’m sure that other adult children of alcoholics (or adult children of other dysfunction) would probably also identify with what’s discussed in the book.